Tips from the McMaster Community

Some of my students do not know how to write an essay.
Helen Ostovich, Department of English

One way to ensure that your students will write more effectively is to make them write frequently, but briefly. This method has the incidental benefit of improving classroom discussion.

I ask my students to write about a specific problem connected with the next week's reading. We speculate briefly on possible approaches to an answer, to get started.

I emphasize that their analysis of the problem must have a narrow focus, since they have to offer a coherent opinion in only 250-500 words.

The short essays are due at the beginning of the next week's class. Subsequently, the students spend 10 or 15 minutes sharing their opinions. The discussion inevitably illustrates how to express ideas logically and convincingly.

In marking the papers, I concentrate on one potentially good idea that may have miscarried because of grammatical incorrectness, or overly general evidence, or some specific lapse of rhetorical skill that undercut the argument's persuasiveness.

After three such assignments, I notice a distinct improvement in my students' ability to write coherently and emphatically on a suitably focused topic.

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